It’s a byproduct of our high-stakes testing culture that, once the high-stakes test is completed, teachers and students can be tempted into thinking the school year is complete as well. Of course, that is not the case and you often have a month or more of time to keep the kids focused even though they have already mentally checked out.
The positive way of thinking of this lame-duck period is to realize that the standards have been, theoretically, completed. You can be more experimental. The kids can be more exploratory. Here are some ideas to help the lame duck period be as educationally fruitful as possible.
Give the students more input
Unfortunately the standards, Common Core or otherwise, do not ask for much student input about what they want to study. Take this opportunity to let the kids explore topics that might have been glossed over or ignored earlier in the year. For example, my students always liked my February poetry unit, but we only spent as much time on the subject as needed for the test (which, these days, is not a lot). In May, I would let the kids explore other forms of poetry that we didn’t get to cover and even had time for them to craft their own.
Try out some new pedagogy
I had always been fascinated by the idea of student-guided learning in the language arts classroom, meaning the students get to choose what to read in an effort to get more buy-in. Unfortunately, that method is antithetical to most of the standards. They simply will not choose to read some of the genres they will be tested on. Towards the end of every year, after the test, I would bring that experiment back out and try to work out the kinks in an effort to make it a more workable solution. Do your own experimenting, maybe with flipped learning or something similar. Maybe it’s good enough for a full effort in the new school year.
Above all, have fun
This will be the last time you see a lot of these kids. Depending on the grade level, this might also be the last time that they get to spend with each other. Good teachers have been making learning fun all year, but feel free to pull out all of the stops now. Get a cross-curricular field day together with some colleagues. Have the kids demonstrate something that’s important to them - like a hobby - that may not necessarily be aligned to the standards. Do your best to make some memories, both for yourself and for them.